Nashville Predators: Make-or-Break Series Against Florida Panthers

Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during a NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on January 19, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/NHL/Getty Images)
Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during a NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on January 19, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/NHL/Getty Images) /

Next up on the schedule for the Nashville Predators is the Florida Panthers, a team that’s not lost a game yet in regulation this season.

If the Predators are going to prove they can fight for a top-four spot in the Central Division, they have to have a lot of success against teams like the Panthers.

It’s clear that the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars are probably in a class of their own.

Who will get that No.4 spot and final playoff spot in the division is going to come down to beating teams like the Panthers regularly.

Unfamiliar opponent

The Florida Panthers are a team that many Predators fans might not know much about. The teams usually only face off against each other twice per season.

When you look at the Panthers, they’re a hard-working team full of blue collar type players. They don’t always get the league wide notoriety, but they’re certainly a team that has a strong chance at getting into the playoffs and pulling off an upset or two.

The Predators just got trounced by the Tampa Bay Lightning and are currently slumped way down in the division standings. They’re 4-5-0 and now faced with the challenge of making up some ground and getting their point percentage raised.

Point percentages are expected to come into play this season if postponed games can’t be made up and teams don’t all play an equal number of games.

It feels like the Predators need all four points in this matchup, and certainly can’t afford to drop their third in a row with a loss tonight on the front end of a back-to-back.

Impact players to watch

The Panthers have Sergei Bobrovsky going in net on Thursday night. A goaltender that can flash into his Vezina Trophy winning form at any time.

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Bobrovsky only has three starts so far this season and has won all three of them. However, his save percentage is below 90 percent and has been a little inconsistent so far.

If the Predators can get into the high-danger areas and not just blindly throw pucks at the net, they should be able to tally three or four goals on Bobrovsky.

The Panthers have a lot of depth, led by centerman Aleksander Barkov who shares the team lead in points with two goals and five assists.

It’s a very balanced team with four players all at seven points, while the Predators have no players at seven points. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson each have six points on the season through nine games.

The special teams struggles for the Predators are the center of attention, and the Panthers have a pretty decent penalty kill. If the Predators fail to find success on the power play, then 5-on-5 will be where they have to get their scoring.

Anthony Duclair is another solid player for the Panthers on their top line. He’s tied for the team lead with six assists already on the season.

Players returning for the Nashville Predators

Calle Jarnkrok has been missing from the lineup for several games now and should be back tonight:

In terms of getting some offensive firepower back, Jarnkrok should provide some of that. He can also help out the power play which has scored just four power play goals on 36 opportunities.

Luke Kunin is hoping to get back into the lineup as well. He’s cooled off since starting the season with two goals in his first two games with Nashville.

One player the Predators might miss again is Brad Richardson. He was absent in practice yesterday and is a critical penalty killer:

This should leave room for Rocco Grimaldi to remain in the lineup, but that’s not a certainty. There’s a lot of different ways Head Coach John Hynes might decide to go that we won’t know for sure until pregame warm-ups.

Grimaldi has been almost non-existent this season while getting very little ice time. Yakov Trenin and Mathieu Olivier have been getting most of the work on the fourth line, and now it’s a matter of seeing where Jarnkrok fits in.

Based on the projected lineup, Jarnkrok will be on the fourth line and Trenin might be moved up to the third line in Grimaldi’s normal spot.

Eeli Tolvanen should remain in the lineup if Kunin doesn’t end up playing. Tolvanen scored his first goal of the season, and only his second of his NHL career, in the last game against Tampa Bay.

With it being a back-to-back, it’s unclear who the Predators will choose to go with first to start in net. I’d stick with Juuse Saros and hope the team plays much better in front of him than they did against Tampa Bay on Monday.

Puck drop is 6 P.M. CDT and will be televised on Fox Sports Tennessee.